In a letter sent to courts nationwide on Tuesday, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana warned judges and prosecutors against entrusting their duties to clerks or reading newspapers during trial.
The warning followed a missive sent last month in which the minister warned court clerks that they would be punished if they performed the work of judges and prosecutors, a practice long criticized by experts as illegal.
Mr Vong Vathana’s most recent admonishment, dated July 26, cited complaints from the public and ordered judges and prosecutors to respect a code of ethics.
“The Ministry of Justice has recently received complaints from the public who require judicial services at the courthouses,” Mr Vong Vathana wrote.
“The Ministry of Justice also knows that at present some judges and prosecutors have entrusted the duty to the clerks to question without the presence of a judge or prosecutor,” the missive reads. “During the trials, some of the judges and prosecutors take time to read newspapers while the court is in session.”
The letter said such “negative aspects most adversely affect the trust in serving and providing justice.”
“The justice ministry would like to advise and admonish you, judges and prosecutors, to fully respect the code of ethics,” the letter said.
Sam Pracheameanith, Cabinet chief at the Justice Ministry, said yesterday that the recent letter was a warning.
“This is only advice and admonishment as we have seen many negative aspects,” he said. “The letter intends to promote effectiveness with the judicial system.”
He added that roughly 100 judges and prosecutors had been disciplined by the ministry since 1998 and that two had been dismissed.
Phoung Van, a judge at Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court, said yesterday that he “never allowed the clerks to question [parties] directly.”
Sok Keo Bandith, deputy prosecutor at Siem Reap Provincial Court, said he had never seen any judges or prosecutors reading newspapers during trials.
But he added, “If there is no advice, I think some may violate the code of ethics.”
Diep Kulam, manager of the Model Court Project for Legal Aid of Cambodia, also said he had not observed court officials read newspapers during trials, although he said he has witnessed some answer phones.
Mr Kulam added that interning law students occasionally take on the duties of judges and prosecutors at the courts.
“Sometimes they do many acts instead of the court clerk,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)